A week in Barcelona

I came back from Barcelona with jarfuls of Spanish sand collecting in my walking boots. With ripped stockings. With shoulders sunburnt to a crisp and translucent snail trails all dried down my cheeks, the ghosts of midday tears. My hair hadn’t been washed since God Knows When and my jumper still smelt of ocean and rum. It was around midnight when I got to King’s Cross and late night trains were all taking off wearily, gradually. Cracking their knuckles and preparing for the home stretch. Their cabins were full of the only two types of nocturnal souls – the lonely and the loved – and the minutes ticked by a little too fast on all the illuminated departure signs. Walk, I thought. Get on the train, I thought. And it took me a moment to gather myself on the platform before taking off in a sprint and unraveling all over again.

We’d arrived in Spain a week earlier in much the same mood. Travel-weary, dazed. All sunken shouldered and grumpy after a domino line of missed flights, airport campsites and bus rides that wound drearily around forever. The whole purpose of the trip had been a music festival that my friend Jack Mark and I bought tickets to on a whim. Knowing almost nothing about Spain but willing to follow the sun and a ridiculously good selection of musicians, we threw out plans like fishing lines and waited in the lull of everyday life until it was time to reel them in again. Luckily we arrived when we did, because one more mishap and we would have turned right back around again. Never met the people we did. Seen the places that nudged into our hearts like someone coming to share the couch with you. And we would have felt no loss, because all the future wonders of our lives exist right now only in that imaginary dimension of distant birthdays and tragic stories on the news.  Like looking at things through a thin layer of water, from the very back of the waiting line. We know how we’re supposed to feel about them. We just hadn’t got around to feeling it yet.

The hostel was relaxed and the beer was cheap. We spent our first night in and out of bars, learning new names and faces then unlearning them again just as you needed to introduce the person in question to someone else. A typical pattern. At one point I got separated from Jack Mark and found myself winding towards the club in a taxi full of Canadians, then turned around on the dance floor fifteen minutes later to find him standing right in front of me, jumping in delight. The dance floor opened up onto the beach and we were all drifting around the place with dazed eyes, speaking without thinking, barely able to comprehend that we were there. Later we found ourselves near the waters edge with cheap beers being shoved in our faces by all the local men. A constant stream of no thank you’s. And there’s something about sand shifting between your toes, about a jumper that’s big enough to bunch over your knees and the moon hanging low over wonderful, electric conversation that shocks your sleeping skin into existence. I remember the taste of Spanish tobacco and a delicious tingling in my arms, when you hit the point that you could run laps just as easily as you could sink back into the darkness and lie there, puffing away, forever.  

And it was stumbling, and it was drifting, and it was pretty bloody perfect. Before I travelled I always wondered how the whole thing played out, how people met other people and figured out how to spend their money, what happened if things didn’t fall into place, what happened if they did. There was no map of behaviour. No guidebook for decision-making. Nothing to tell you where you go first or how to act, you’re wandering around a place that is completely outside the context of the rest of your life and it feels light and heavy at the same time. That’s why people tell you to travel. That’s why you hear it your whole fucking life but never quite understand until your feet are moving on autopilot. Not because you’re swept up in emotion. But because you’d stop dead in your tracks if you let yourself really sink into the terrible and wonderful risks you’re taking by waking up each day further and further away from home.

By the time the festival started we’d collected a string of kindred spirits like keys that jangle together in your pocket. We ate together, drank together. Caught the underground train together. The mornings were all the same, all painful. If I slept at all it was for a few hours at a time, and I’d wake up all groggy in the unwelcome light and stumble past the other beds, trying not to disturb the snorers and the sheepish sleeping couples. No rest for the wicked, as they say. Our room had a small balcony overlooking the square below and I’d sun myself there behind heavy-duty sunglasses, watching as dancers and beating drums coaxed tourists into enthusiastic viewing circles. Everything was literally drenched in a golden kind of glaze that was too much to take in on an empty stomach, too unsettlingly beautiful for the never ending exhale where all your good sense and resolve sit quietly at your feet. Hiding by the remains of empty bottles. I slowly unstitched my outline to make room for all these new things, the overhang of a thousand leafy trees, gravel lungs, cider spilt on hostel mattresses. Then like homing pigeons, we’d meet at a common point completely by instinct and drag our legs forwards into the night.  

By sunset there was a second wave of energy. There must have been a million people attending the festival, and with eight or so stages sprawled out a decent way it seemed almost impossible not to get lost. But the bands were playing and we didn’t mind one bit. It was the kind of music that pricks your blood electric and makes you spill, constantly, out of your skin. We ran around like vagabonds with muddy paws and smeared coral lips. Everything smelt like beer. Like ocean. Like stale foreign cigarettes. And the air did not fall calmly around us, it buzzed with the energy of a million different people living out a million different stories in their overflowing heads. My god, sometimes it’s not the places that get me. It’s the loves and disasters that are playing out around you at all hours of the day. We walk down streets and recognize landmarks, but we don’t stop to wonder whether anyone has cried under those trees, tripped carelessly down these white stone stairs, or fallen carefully in love as they lassoed these very stars around the object of their affection. If I could go back I’d do it in an instant. I wouldn’t even finish this sentence.

Because it’s the strike of midnight and we can’t feel the cold anymore. Because Nick Cave is throwing sultry looks at the crowd and all our vices are kicking in rather nicely, so we’re dancing in circles and forgetting everything in advance (forgetting to tie our laces, to look over our shoulders, to think that one day we might not even remember how it feels to be alive tonight). I’m not writing this to help you understand. I’m writing to remind myself years from now that there was a time I felt completely on the brink of everything worth doing, and I hope, my god I hope, that I did it all.

On the last morning when the sun cracked over us like an egg with yolky rays and the DJ’s were wrapping it all up for good, we decided not to go home. To the beach, we said. To the beach. And so we took off our shoes and sunk into the sand, lying about in various states of consciousness, not wanting to say our goodbyes. One person travelling and having an amazing time is great. But when that feeling is shared, by default, it is magnified. But it’s not enough for me to paint you word pictures, I want you to go. All of you. Sitting there behind your glass screens, reading words that probably seem as distant and symbolic as childhood fairytales. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing and why you think you should be doing it. I don't know about you but my feet were born restless and my mind was born thirsty, and it all begins when you realise that even storytellers have to write their own lives first. 

 fruit at the markets

the city i fell in love with

my travel buddy

the homebound trail at sunrise 

Primavera Sound 2013


  1. You write so beautifully. What part of Australia are you from?

    1. Thank you so much, I'm from Adelaide! x